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LAPD: More light shed on USC graduate student’s murder

A Los Angeles police detective testified Wednesday that a 16-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy acknowledged that they went to an area near USC to commit robberies and got out of a car with another young man after the group spotted a USC graduate student from China, who wound up being fatally beaten near the university campus last summer.

LAPD Detective Paul Shearholdt testified that 16-year-old Alejandra Guerrero and 17-year-old Alberto Ochoa, along with co-defendants Jonathan Del Carmen and Andrew Garcia, both 19, gave varying accounts about the attack early last July 24 on Xinran Ji.

The 24-year-old electrical engineering student managed to make it back to his apartment after the attack and was found dead in his bed.

All four told investigators that they were in a car being driven by Del Carmen and that there had been a discussion about “flocking” — or robbing — people near the USC campus, with Garcia telling investigators that the man was referred to as Chinese and that he must have money because he was Chinese, according to the police detective.

The testimony came during the second day of a hearing — which is set to continue Thursday — to determine if there is enough evidence to require Guerrero, Ochoa and Del Carmen to stand trial for murder in Ji’s death.

Garcia is also charged with murder, but criminal proceedings against him were suspended Tuesday pending an evaluation next month to determine if he is mentally competent to stand trial.

A woman whom Ji had walked home from a study group that wrapped up about 12:30 a.m. that day told police that he never texted her to let her know that he had gotten home and said two of her calls to his cellular phone went unanswered, Los Angeles police Officer Di Sun testified.

Ji’s body was found in his bed by one of his roommates, who told police that he didn’t respond to her when she called out his name.

The 5-foot-6-inch, 149-pound man died from severe cranial cerebral trauma and suffered at least six wounds to his scalp, said Dr. Louis Pena, who performed the autopsy for the Los Angeles County coroner’s office. Ji also had a broken nose and bruising on his arms and one of his hands, and some of the injuries were consistent with defensive wounds, the deputy medical examiner testified.

When Deputy District Attorney John McKinney asked his opinion of the degree of force inflicted, Pena said it was “pretty severe.” Even if he had been taken to the hospital, the victim probably would have died within hours or days, the deputy medical examiner said.

Shearholdt said he questioned the four defendants individually last July in an interview room at the LAPD’s 77th Street Division after advising them of their right to remain silent and and to have an attorney present.

Del Carmen — who was interviewed first — initially denied being in the USC area, then admitted that some of the passengers in his car were talking about “flocking” people to get money, according to the police detective.

Del Carmen told police that Garcia and Ochoa directed him to return to the area, and that Garcia, Ochoa and Guerrero got out of the vehicle after he made a U-turn and stopped, according to the detective.

“He told me that he saw them beating him up,” the detective said, adding that Del Carmen did not describe any specific actions by the teenage girl.

The police detective said Garcia acknowledged being in the USC area to commit what he considered were robberies, and said he chased after the victim and struck him with his fists after Ochoa struck the victim in the shoulder or back area with a baseball bat. Garcia said Ochoa struck the victim with the end of the bat in a jabbing motion, the detective testified.

Shearholdt testified that Ochoa — who was next to speak with detectives and appeared “scared” and “nervous” — said Garcia instructed him to hit the victim, which he said he did once. He said that the victim ran away after Garcia punched him in the face and that Ochoa told investigators that he got back in Del Carmen’s Honda Accord after Garcia went in chase with the baseball bat, according to the police detective.

The detective testified that Ochoa told investigators that he shouted at Garcia not to hit the victim in the face.

Guerrero told investigators that she had gotten out of the car with the intention to act as a lookout, saying she struck Ji in the hand with a wrench to defend herself because the victim was grabbing her, the detective testified.

Along with murder, the defendants face a special circumstance allegation that the murder occurred during an attempted robbery. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office will decide later whether to seek the death penalty against Del Carmen and Garcia. Ochoa and Guerrero, who are charged as adults, cannot face the death penalty because they are under 18.

Ochoa, Guerrero and Garcia are also charged with one count each of robbery, attempted robbery and assault with a deadly weapon for an alleged attack on a man and woman at Dockweiler State Beach early the same day.

The woman, who said $40 to $50 was taken after it fell out of her purse during a confrontation, identified Ochoa and Guerrero as being involved in the crime.

The man testified that Ochoa was armed with a bat when the group approached them as they sat talking on a curb, but said he could not identify the two females who confronted his friend. The man said he was was struck in the mouth by what his friend later told him was the baseball bat.

Police said Ochoa and Garcia — who reported that friends had left them stranded at the beach — were taken into custody while walking nearby after the man summoned a nearby patrol car. Del Carmen and Guerrero were arrested later.

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